An Ex-Byrd’s Album Is Given New Flight – The NYT

The Byrds in 1965

The Byrds in 1965

The Byrds /ˈbɜrdz/ were an American rock band, formed in Los Angeles, California in 1964. The band underwent multiple line-up changes throughout its existence, with frontman Roger McGuinn, a.k.a. Jim McGuinn, remaining the sole consistent member, until the group disbanded in 1973. Although they only managed to attain the huge commercial success of contemporaries like The Beatles, The Beach Boys, and The Rolling Stones for a short period (1965–66), The Byrds are today considered by critics to be one of the most influential bands of the 1960s. Initially, they pioneered the musical genre of folk rock, melding the influence of The Beatles and other British Invasion bands with contemporary and traditional folk music. As the 1960s progressed, the band was also influential in originating psychedelic rock, raga rock, and country rock.

The New York Times
By Jon Pareles


Gene Clark’s “No Other” is being revived in concert. Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Some albums find an unexpected afterlife. They may have been ignored or reviled upon release; they may have been out of sync with the trend of the moment; they may have had bad business luck. Then, years or decades later, word of mouth and word of Internet start to bubble up from musicians, collectors, longtime fans and new acquaintances. It doesn’t hurt if the songs are oblique and tormented, if the album and musician have troubled back stories or if newer music has vindicated sounds that went unappreciated at the time.

The reputation of Gene Clark’s 1974 album “No Other” — which was initially spurned by its record company and dismissed by critics as overproduced — has been steadily ascending, particularly since an expanded European reissue on CD in 2003. On Saturday and Sunday, “No Other” is to be performed live at Music Hall of Williamsburg, in as close a replica of the original arrangements as 14 musicians and singers can create onstage. It’s the New York City finale of the “No Other” mini-tour organized by Alex Scally of Beach House.

“We want it to be a time capsule — just the way it sounded and felt,” Mr. Scally said by telephone from Baltimore.

The lineup is an indie-rock supergroup, briefly setting their own music aside. It also includes Beach House’s other member, Victoria Legrand; lead singers from Fleet Foxes, the Walkmen, Grizzly Bear, Wye Oak; and, from the 1960s lineup of the British folk-rock institution Fairport Convention, Iain Matthews, a longtime champion of Mr. Clark’s songs. An edited version of the 2013 documentary about Clark, “The Byrd Who Flew Alone” — another sign of the Gene Clark renaissance — will precede the performance.

Clark died at 46 — of natural causes, brought on by a bleeding ulcer, according to the coroner — after a career of inspired, pensive songwriting and hard living. His tombstone, in his hometown, Tipton, Mo., reads, “Harold Eugene Clark, Nov. 17 1944-May 24 1991, No Other.” He considered the album his masterpiece, and its commercial oblivion wounded him for the rest of his life.

He had found stardom early. Clark moved to Los Angeles to join the New Christy Minstrels, a mainstay of the early-1960s “Hootenanny” era. But after hearing and absorbing the Beatles, he started the Byrds with Jim (later Roger) McGuinn and David Crosby and was the main songwriter for the band’s first two albums, as well as a frequent lead singer. Clark was also the main songwriter of the Byrds’ “Eight Miles High.”

Clark has never lacked admirers among musicians. Bob Dylan singled him out with early praise: “He’s got something to say, and I’m listening,” Mr. Dylan said in 1965. Clark’s voice always held a sense of sorrow, and his songs had a philosophical undercurrent, musing on time, faith and solitude.

“They say there’s a price you pay for going out too far,” he sang in “The True One” on “No Other.” “You can buy a one-way ticket out there all alone/And you can sit and wonder why it’s so hard to get back home.”

Clark’s heart was in songwriting; he wasn’t cut out to be an entertainer. In 1966, he was ousted from the Byrds after he was too fearful to board a flight to New York City for a radio promotion. In the documentary, Mr. McGuinn recalls telling Clark, “You can’t be a Byrd if you can’t fly.” Throughout his solo career, Clark often completed albums only to step away from the touring and glad-handing that went with a rock career; he also struggled with alcohol and heroin. Music, not fame, was his element.

 While Clark’s songs were filled with lonely quests, he was an inveterate collaborator. After leaving the Byrds he turned toward bluegrass and country, making albums with the Gosdin Brothers and with the bluegrass banjo player Doug Dillard. Later he would regroup, on and off, with members of the Byrds. He made “No Other,” his fourth solo album, after rejoining the original Byrds lineup for the 1973 album, Byrds,” on which the songs he wrote were the clear standouts.
Alex Scally, with Victoria Legrand, organized the concert. Joe Kohen for The New York Times

Alex Scally, with Victoria Legrand, organized the concert. Joe Kohen for The New York Times

A British Invasion beat carried Clark’s early songs with the Byrds, like “I’ll Feel a Whole Lot Better” — which, in a typical Clark touch, brings uncertainty to its chorus, “I’ll probably feel a whole lot better when you’re gone.”

But rock often gave way, during his solo career, to something closer to the country music he had grown up on, transformed by his lyrics. His songs have been recognized as a foundation for what would later be called alt-country or Americana. Clark wrote story songs as stark as traditional ballads, and deeply haunted mood songs like the two chosen by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss — “Polly Come Home” and “Through the Morning, Through the Night” — for their 2007 album “Raising Sand.”

Yet “No Other” is no one’s idea of down-home roots-rock. Mr. Clark and its producer, Thomas Jefferson Kaye, gave it a far more lavish palette, and even the songs that start out countryish end up in realms of their own. There are gospelly female choruses, horns, synthesizers, Latin percussion, wah-wah violin and, in “No Other,” a bruising fuzz-toned bass line played by a phalanx of overdubbed basses. The head of Elektra/Asylum Records, David Geffen, was furious that a $100,000 studio budget had yielded only eight finished songs, and the label barely promoted the album. In a notorious Hollywood incident, Clark and Mr. Geffen nearly came to blows at a restaurant.

Four decades after “No Other” was released, in our era of potentially infinite overdubs and libraries of distortion effects, the album’s dense production pileups — what Mr. Scally from Beach House calls “studio-ness” — register less as overkill than as a psychological ambience.

“That studio-ness really pushed Gene Clark,” Mr. Scally said. “It sounds like he’s fighting to survive, to burst through that wall of sound. His vocals are intense.”

Mr. Scally, 31, first heard “No Other” in 2004, when he began collaborating with Ms. Legrand; her father gave her the L.P. “I thought it was one of those classic rock records like ‘After the Gold Rush,’ one of those well-known canonized great records,” Mr. Scally said. “But I found out over the years that it’s just a record no one knew.”

Beach House has been listening to it “constantly” since then, discovering its “onionlike quality,” Mr. Scally said, adding: “The first thing you hear is the production, the general feel. Ten listens in, you start fixating on the lyrics. And some of the lyrics on the record just destroy you, they’re so strange and wonderful.”

Clark, in a 1984 interview, described the album as “spiritual,” adding, “It was during a time when I felt like I was doing a lot of soul-searching.”

Hindsight has burnished “No Other,” as it has redeemed other albums that went on to be reconstructed as rock repertory, like Big Star’s “Third/Sister Lovers” and Lou Reed’s “Berlin.”

“It’s hard to understand how this record must have sounded then as opposed to how it sounds now and what it means,” Mr. Scally said. “There’s something really touching about it.”

Beach House and Friends are to perform Gene Clark’s “No Other” Saturday and Sunday at Music Hall of Williamsburg, 66 North Sixth Street, Brooklyn; 212-260-4700,; SOLD OUT.

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